Very Scrummy English Food
Fish 'n' chips, pie 'n' mash, curry 'n' lager - the English have traditionally had simple tastes when it comes to food. However, at some point in the last twenty years, restaurateurs realised that if they continued to fur our arteries, they'd kill off their best customers. Thus, the New British Cuisine was born, based on traditional recipes, simple seasonal ingredients, sweary Scottish chefs and French cooking techniques. We've tried to cover the best of both worlds in our suggestions for a patriotic St George's meal.
There are many places in London for a great English breakfast, but while your bacon 'n' eggs at Bar Bruno may not be as tasty as those at the Quality Chop House, or come in such magnificent surroundings as The Wolseley, we think you'll agree that it is the most English of the lot. This formica-and-blackboards cafe is one of the last true vestiges of old Soho, a place where journalists, artists and builders settle in for hours with the newspapers and a cuppa, while office workers nip in for a quick snack. The Italian bits and pieces are good, but the real highlights are the all-day breakfasts and sausage and bacon sandwiches, washed down with a cup of strong, milky tea. It's busy every day from dawn, when the delivery men pop in for a sustaining cuppa, until late in the evening, when people are still coming in to fortify themselves for a night out clubbing.
The wonderful thing about the dishes you grew up with is that they never get boring. And I've certainly never met an Englishman who's weary of a traditional roast dinner. The menu at Canteen reads like a comforting childhood reminiscence with some sophisticated bunting sprinkled on top. Devilled kidneys on toast, followed by macaroni cheese, crowned by the apple crumble and custard would be a typical trail through the large and time-consuming list. It's not just for dining though; wake up to a bacon sandwich, relax in the afternoon with a pot of tea and some freshly baked biscuits. Cutting to the chase - there's a different roast every day - either lamb, beef, pork or chicken - served with a toothsome garnish of roast potatoes and veg, all bathed in lashings of thick, meaty gravy. The simple canteen-style of both their branches doesn't lend itself to comfort, but ensures that prices have been kept spectacularly low for food of this quality. Details below are for the Southbank branch; there are also branches in Spitalfields and Marylebone.
Lodged on the boundary of Victoria Park, The Empress of India is a sister venue to Tom and Ed Martin's much celebrated Dockland's gastropub, The Gun. The pub pays homage to the Victorian era with hand-painted silk wallpaper rendering scenes of the Raj. The decor is neatly done - a pewter bar, Chesterfield banquettes and dark beech tables and chairs - and definitely aimed at diners rather than drinkers. An excellent seasonal British menu includes such meaty main courses as roast haunch of venison. A fresh yet still decidedly English gastropub alternative and well worth the trek into Hackney's public transport blackspot.
The true British national dish is, of course, the curry. Arriving with immigrants in the 1950s and 1960s, there are now more curry-houses in the UK than any other type of restaurant. Many places are distancing themselves from the curry's unhealthy reputation, but India Club feels like it hasn't changed since Asian food was introduced to this country half a century ago. Hidden up two flights of stairs, the shabby decor, rickety tables, typed menus and scent of stale oil disguise some excellent food and extraordinary value. It's not altogether a pleasant atmosphere, but it is authentically exotic. One of London's most surprising restaurants.
The National Gallery's restaurant do all sorts of great British things like breakfasts, cakes and afternoon tea really well, while the set menu combines traditional British dishes in innovative ways. They share opening hours with the gallery, so this isn't an evening place - except on Fridays when everything stays open late until 9pm. If you want to feel really puffed-up with English pride, pop into the gallery for a look at Constable's The Haywain, Turner's The Fighting Temeraire and Stubbs' Whistlejacket, and then hit the restaurant for a meal of kipper pate, steak and kidney pie, and bread and butter pudding.
The best traditional fish and chips in the West End, with everything you'd expect from a traditional London chippie, including takeaway wrapped in paper, a punning name, and horrible house wine. Most important is the fresh fish and fat, hand-cut chips (and some fantastic home-made samosas for the less patriotic diner). Unusually, it's all cooked in peanut oil, which makes it a marginally healthier option than the standard chippie. The outside seating is a good spot for people-watching in summer.
The fresh face of a new generation of pies for the 21st century! The trusty pie has shed its staid, orthodox image and had a makeover - well really it's just changed shape - thanks to Square Pie. The "Hip-to-be-Square, Hoxton makeover" hasn't made the pie too-cool-for-school either, and they are still coming out of the oven at a reasonable price. Tucking in, the gorgeous innards and crusty golden pastry remain comfortingly unchanged. They cook up all the classics here including lip-licking steak and Guinness, lamb and rosemary numbers, as well as some delectable vegetarian options - the wild mushroom and asparagus simply drips with flavour - and some more cosmopolitan tastes like the hearty Spanish chorizo. The pies are beefed up with ample servings of mash, mushy peas, and lashings of onion gravy. There's nothing quite like the smell of a freshly baked pie, served piping hot. Yum.
Fergus Henderson's Michelin starred St John restaurant pioneered the New English style referred to as 'Nose to Tail', in which bits of an animal and entire species (squirrel, anyone?) that you'd never have thought were edible are turned into world-class food. The style is faux-simple, but in fact your ox-hearts, foraged veg, cockscombs and langoustines are being prepared by some of the finest chefs in the capital. The best dishes are are enormous roasts to share, which need to be ordered a couple of days in advance. What could be more English than sitting down with a dozen friends to eat an entire pig? Details here are for the Smithfield branch, there is also the less formal St John Bread and Wine in Spitalfields.
Named after the architect of vast swathes of exclusive residential district, Belgravia, The Thomas Cubitt is a shining light among the capital's sea of gastropubs. Second-to-none are their roast dinners which fill and delight every Sunday lunchtime. The menu mutates each week according to the season and what the butcher has in. Offerings range from pork stuffed with apricot, served with a generous brittle crust of pork crackling, to a pink-cored, sliced roast sirloin of beef. There's no slouching with the accompaniments either, a perfect portion of roasties, mashed swede, caramelised vegetables and Yorkshire pudding look up from an ample drizzling of flavoursome gravy. The puddings aren't quite as traditional, but remain equally tasty, or try the varied cheese board. This all sits well in the stomach which becomes full, but not stuffed to bloating point. It's best to book ahead on Sunday as the place is absolutely full - hence the comfortably sedate service. Decisively though, the friendly staff never forget anything and all the food arrives piping-hot. This is one of the best places to eat a roast in central London and a great way to celebrate St George's Day.
Tom Aikens follows his swish restaurant in nearby Elystan Street with the more casual Tom's Kitchen close to the Kings Road. It's a more relaxed affair with a butcher's block and an open kitchen offering curious diners an insight into the mechanics of the machine. Open for breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner, it's a hard working place serving everything from sophisticated nose-to-tail cuts of meat to simple (and fantastic) fry-ups - or you can pop into the 'Games Room' for a cocktail. Simple ingredients, plain presentation and lots of comfort food have proved a winning formula. Opt for the pan fried foie gras with bacon and duck egg, follow with the spit roast shoulder of lamb for a full-on meaty meal, and complement with sides of mashed potato, savoy cabbage with bacon or parsnips. Or try a (very English) macaroni cheese - reputated to be the best in London.
The Routemaster bus occupies a special place in the hearts of Londoners. You only have to look at the mayoral elections to know that. And if the old adage - 'the best way to a man's heart is through his stomach' - is true then this is the best way of cementing that warm, fuzzy feeling. When the much-loved mode of transport was largely retired - replaced by the altogether less loved bendy bus - there was an outcry. This novel repositioning, then, of the Rootmaster as vegan 'bustaurant' should be applauded for its sheer inventiveness and for getting the iconic red double-decker back on the London map. Parked up outside the Truman Brewery, the bus is the brainchild of ex-dancer Sylvia Garcia and all the food, prepared on the lower deck, is vegan. Upstairs offers seating for 28 and - weather permitting - there's additional seating outside. The tasty looking menu offers choices of purple sprouting brocoli, aubergine stack salad or tofu tower washed down with an organic wine list and finished off with triple chocolate fudge cake or ice cream with wild berries. Nostalgic journeys never tasted so good.
Fish and Chips are a great English tradition and so anyone tucking in to one of our nation's great signature dishes should do so comfortable in the knowledge that St George would no doubt nod his head in approval. What's more, anyone heading down to fish! Kitchen's stylish flagship restaurant in Borough Market to tuck into fish (in a delicious golden beer batter), chips and mushy peas or the special signature swordfish sandwich on Friday 23rd April can add their name to a petition campaigning for a new national holiday on St George's Day. Customers at fish! Kitchen in East Sheen or Kingston can also get in on the act - and once 500 signatures are amassed, the petition will be taken to Downing Street to be considered for debate. Breakfast is now available at Tony Allan's acclaimed mini chain, serving traditional British breakfasts on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Go on, be patriotic and order grilled kippers with lemon butter and brown bread!
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